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Fireworks light up the sky over Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing on Feb. 20.The Associated Press

We have grown so attached to the ‘Whither the IOC?’ storyline that we can no longer let it go, even when it’s stopped being true.

How does the Olympic movement handle (start ticking off fingers and then move on to a neighbour) doping, human rights, mental health, child athletes, dark money, transgender participation, sports washing, influence peddling, commercialism and climate change?

What is the Olympic movement hiding? When is this house of cards coming down?

Mapping the paths that lead to Olympic collapse isn’t a reality check any more. It is wish fulfilment. It is people who have limited interest in a moral reckoning continuing to pretend one is coming so they can defer dealing with a moral reckoning.

The IOC may have been in trouble circa 2016. That was the point of lowest ebb in its latest phase of decline.

It had rammed through the Vladimir Putin Memorial Games in Sochi in 2014. Coming off institutional highlights in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012, it didn’t have the sense to hold an unsavoury host at arm’s length. Recall Canadian Olympic Committee boss and International Olympic Committee bagman Marcel Aubut gushing over Putin when the Russian President rolled through Canada House: “Great Games. Probably the best ever.”

It turned out the Russians were best at something – cheating. In light of recent events, that mistake looks like complicity in something much darker than switching out vials of urine.

That led to four consecutive Games that were escalating opportunities for disintegration – from apathy in Rio; from brinkmanship in Pyeongchang; from the pandemic in Tokyo; from a different sort of complicity in Beijing.

The IOC’s solution in each instance was to duck down behind the participants. Because what’s an invasion or a few mass incarcerations when you consider that this guy over here has practised for years at flipping in the air on skis? Look at his face. You tell him he can’t ski flip when that’s all he’s ever wanted to do.

You may not like any of this. You shouldn’t. But you have to admit – it’s an impressive con. It involves every stakeholder (one of the IOC’s favourite words, which is nowhere more applicable than in this instance).

There are the people who organize the Games. They take the heat;

There are the advertisers who profit from the Games. They supply the seed money;

There are the athletes and athletic organizing committees. They do sales, but occasionally act as muscle when someone needs leaning on;

There are the broadcast partners, who do the PR;

Finally, there is the non-aligned media, who pretend to hold everyone accountable, while also providing all the free advertising.

The impression left is of a struggle for the soul of Sports Church. In fact, it’s a bunch of cultural elites jostling at the free buffet in the basement.

Among the people who’d be most devastated to see the Olympics go are those who spend a lot of time shouting that if the Olympics doesn’t shape up, it might have to go. That’s how the fiction is maintained.

Hovering slightly above it all are the high priests of the IOC. The geriatric gold medalists, the minor royalty, the silken aristocrats.

They do a lot of things. But their prime directive is maintaining the perception that there is nothing sweeter in life than being able to call yourself “an Olympian.”

That’s it. That’s the secret.

That impression is buttressed by the grandiosity of the Olympics itself. Like a box-office tent-pole, it’s not about quality. It’s about size. It’s about flattening the sharp edges so that it appeals to more and more people (hence, surfboarding). It’s about reaching the maximum number of customers.

If that’s the goal, the past eight years have been the most challenging in the IOC’s history. How do you grow an already gargantuan event when everyone’s being told it’s in the midst of fatal decline? How do you make everyone forget that you were the first one to put your arm around Putin and reassure everyone that he was a pretty okay guy?

You don’t. You don’t even try. You boil it down to one goal – protect the word “Olympian.”

The most recent three weeks in Beijing already seem like 300 years ago. When you think about them now, what impression remains?

It is of an undifferentiated horde of athletes gushing on TV, crying on podiums and waving flags at finish lines, while the progressive citizens of their home countries cheered them on. So, mission accomplished.

The brand isn’t anywhere near as sterling as it was the first time the Olympics were in Beijing, in the summer of 2008, but it’s still a monolith.

It’s like P.J. O’Rourke’s take on the way the world sees his country: “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features: a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.”

Now the realities on the ground are in flux again. Europe is on the edge of conflagration. COVID-19 is ending as a cultural phenomenon, if not as a virus.

The Olympic cycle through host nations that were de facto dictatorships is over. Had it not been, there would be an absolute ton of trouble ahead. But the IOC has already ducked its worst associations with Russia. Its best defence: ‘Hey, you can’t say it wasn’t worth a try.’

The focus now shifts from governments without budgets to hosts without baggage. The next Games is in Paris.

Two-and-a-half years from now, assuming we aren’t in the middle of the Third World War, with restrictions either gone or limited, with everyone itching to get out there, what sort of party is possible?

The current plan is to do the opening ceremony by floating athletes on barges down the Seine and ending up at the Eiffel Tower.

That doesn’t just sound good. That sounds like the sort of night people will lie about having been at.

Then it’s off to Milan, and Los Angeles, and, if the COC gets its way, Vancouver again. This is the road map for an Olympic renaissance.

With tanks rolling toward Kyiv, it doesn’t bear thinking about now. But it doesn’t need to. The Olympics can retreat from public consideration for two years – an absolute eternity in the global attention span.

Barring the arrival of an actual apocalypse (always possible), people can only see the world in apocalyptic terms for so long. A hard dose of geopolitical reality is more likely to snap the West out of decades of myopic lassitude than it is to push it deeper into self-indulgent melancholy. That that is a depressing thought doesn’t make it less true.

Most people crave good times, especially after bad ones. The IOC provides the party. All it asks for in return is your fealty and your money.

As long as people have some of both to give away, the Olympics isn’t getting closer to the edge. Beginning at Paris 2024 – and however the world looks like then – it can begin re-establishing its hold on the centre.